‘Take Me Out to The Ballgame,” sung during seventh-inning stretches everywhere, implores the grownups in all of us to, “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.” But in Trenton, you can now add “pork roll” to that list.
And while baseball has been part of our history for more than 100 years, pork roll goes back even further.
In fact, the Taylors of Taylor Ham fame arrived in colonial New Jersey 100 years before Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, and other New Jersey patriots signed the Declaration of Independence.
Soon after came George Washington Case, a farmer in Belle Mead, just north of the Mercer County line in southern Somerset County.
But it was in the 1850s that both began producing competing versions of pork roll.
More than 150 years later, with the two main pork roll producers still thriving in Trenton, it was only a matter of time until pork roll would be enshrined and publicly celebrated — including annual festivals featuring the customary trimmings of craft beer, rock music, and professional chefs striving to exalt a workaday food into more interesting forms, which they always manage to do.
Case’s Pork Roll is also a presence at Arm and Hammer Park, where the Trenton Thunder play. At the concession stands you can purchase pork roll sandwiches and a new confection will be available this year called “The Sticky Pig” — pork roll, egg, and cheese, topped with bacon and red pepper jam on a glazed donut.
Pork Roll Fridays commence on May 18, when the Thunder will debut “Pork Roll uniforms” — transforming the Trenton Thunder to the Thunder Pork Rolls on Fridays throughout the season. To celebrate, pork roll sandwiches will be available for $1 and Case’s Pork Roll aprons will be handed out to fans 21 and older as they enter the ballpark that night.
In his Washington Street office, Case president Tom Dolan, 57, sits where baseball and pork roll intersect. Dolan has had his current job for six years and has been with the company for 20. He is a Mets fan in Yankees land and until recently was the manager of the American Legion Post 26 Ballclub in Bordentown. He wears a gold chain around his neck from which hangs a ‘26.” His wife had it made by local jeweler Mark Pratico.
Dolan grew up in Yardville, where he was boyhood friends with one Tommy Grieb, whose mother, Arlene, is the last surviving descendant of the Case family. Grieb, who now lives in Florida, became Dolan’s entree to Case’s Pork Roll.
“I did everything,” Dolan says of how he worked his way up the ranks. “I drove a truck, ran sales, then I ran production.”
While he says he enjoys the “Sticky Pig,” his favorite way to have pork roll is pretty basic: fried and on a roll.
Dolan’s wife is a retired state worker. They have a daughter who teaches at Sunnybrae Elementary School in Hamilton Township, and Dolan has a step-son who works at Case’s. There is also a grandson who will be three in May.
The Dolan family was originally from Queens, New York. Dolan’s father came to the Trenton area when he took the position of traffic manager for National Starch in Somerville. His mother still lives in the house where Dolan and his siblings were raised.
“We’re actually growing every year,” Dolan said of Case’s recent business activity of $11 million in volume in 2017. “We’ve been very fortunate over the past few years. We’re expanding our operations.” Case’s is moving into new territory in the East Coast, he says, targeting big box retail stores such as Costco, Sam’s Club, and Walmart.
Dolan almost sounds like the vintage Avis Car Rental ads, which famously said they were No. 2, so they had to try harder. Case’s is still competing with Taylor, popularly known as Taylor Ham, especially in the New York metro area. Taylor originated pork roll in the 1850s and like ‘hoagie’ and ‘sub’, ‘Taylor Ham’ and ‘pork roll’ claim regional identities that are difficult to explain.
“We’re working on getting our product out there, too,” he says. “Even though people are eating our product, they still call it ‘Taylor Ham.’ Taylor is bigger than us. That’s really the main difference.
“The thing about pork roll is that people come to us,” he says. “We do all the diners from North Jersey to South Jersey.”
Thunder general manager Jeff Hurley sees a mutually beneficial relationship with Case’s.
“We’ve had a very long partnership with Case’s, I’d say the last 10 years or so,” Hurley says. “Case’s has a sign on the outfield wall, and the Case’s logo will be prominent on the food concession menus,” he says. There will also be a “pork roll paradise” stand.
“There will be different types of sandwiches for all the pork roll lovers out there,” says Hurley.
But those lovers don’t have to go to the ballpark to celebrate pork roll. Two Trenton pork roll festivals created by Trenton business rivals Scott Miller and T.C. Nelson are set for the same day, Saturday, May 26.
Miller’s, the Fifth Annual Official Pork Roll Festival in Mill Hill Park goes from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The event features all day music, food carts, a Miss Pork Roll competition, pork roll festival products, participation by local restaurants such as the Smoke House, and pork roll recipe competition. Admission is $5.
The 2018 Trenton Pork Roll Festival at T.C. Nelson’s Trenton Social, 449 South Broad Street, runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and features food vendors (including the Pork Roll Store and More from Yardville), all day music, and a “Trenton Pork Roll Out” bike tour. Tickets ranges include a $5 general entry to sample the rolls and hear the music, a $18 bike tour and general admission (bring your own bike), a $45 VIP admission featuring full-service private bar with complimentary draft beer, complimentary buffet for breakfast (9 a.m.) and lunch (noon), and shaded seating.
Dolan has kept the festivals’ rivalries at arm’s length, providing pork roll to both but not taking sides.
Asked to differentiate the two major pork roll companies, Dolan does the same and says, “Both Case and Taylor have a great product. I guess it’s a preference in taste.”
Asked again, Dolan gets serious and provides some pork roll wisdom: “Taylor is great. They got the brand out nationally first. They have a great company. We have a great company. We actually have a friendly relationship.”
Trenton Thunder, Arm & Hammer Park. Pork roll nights begin Friday, May 18, against the Bowie Baysox and continues Fridays through September 3. $11 to $14. 609-394-3300 or trentonthunder.com